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The first fight of the Seventh Cavalry was at Fort Wallace. In June, 1867, a band of three hundred Cheyennes, under Roman Nose, attacked the stage-station near that fort, and ran off the stock. Elated with this success, they proceeded to Fort Wallace, that poor little group of log huts and mud cabins having apparently no power of resistance.

Only the simplest devices could be resorted to for defense. The commissary stores and ammunition were partly protected by a low wall of gunny-sacks filled with sand. There were no logs near enough, and no time if there had been, to build a stockade. But our splendid cavalry charged out as boldly as if they were leaving behind them reserve troops and a battery of artillery. They were met by a counter-charge, the Indians, with lances poised and arrows on the string, coming on swiftly in overwhelming numbers. It was a hand-to-hand fight. Roman Nose was about to throw his javelin at one of our men, when the cavalryman, with his left hand, gave a sabre-thrust equal to the best that many good fencers can execute with their sword-arm. With his Spencer rifle he wounded the chief, and saw him fall forward on his horse.

The post had been so short of men that a dozen negro soldiers, who had come with their wagon from an outpost for supplies, were placed near the garrison on picket duty. While the fight was going on, the two officers in command found themselves near each other on the skirmish-line, and observed a wagon with four mules tearing out to the line of battle. It was filled with negroes, standing up, all firing in the direction of the Indians. The driver lashed the mules with his black-snake, and roared at them as they ran. When the skirmish-line was reached the colored men leaped out and began firing again. No one had ordered them to leave their picket-station, but they were determined that no soldiering should be carried on in which their valor was not proved. The officers saw with surprise that one of the number ran off by himself into the most dangerous place, and one of them remarked, "There's a gone nigger, for a certainty!" They saw him fall, throw up his hands, kick his feet in the air, and then collapse--dead to all appearances. After the fight was over, and the Indians had withdrawn to the bluffs, the soldiers were called together and ordered back to the post. At that moment a negro, gun in hand, walked up from where the one supposed to be slain had last been seen. It was the dead restored to life. When asked by the officer, "What in thunder do you mean, running off at such a distance into the face of danger, and throwing up your feet and hands as if shot?" he replied, "Oh, Lord, Massa, I just did dat to fool 'em. I fot deyed try to get my scalp, thinkin' I war dead, and den I'd jest get one of 'em."

The following official report, sent in from some colored men stationed at Wilson's Creek, who were attacked, and successfully drove off the Indians, will give further proof of their good service, while at the same time it reveals a little of other sides of the negro, when he first began to serve Uncle Sam:

"All the boys done bully, but Corporal Johnson--he flinked. The way he flinked was, to wait till the boys had drove the Injuns two miles, and then he hollered, 'Gin it to 'em!' and the boys don't think that a man that would flink that way ought to have corporal's straps."

In order to give this effort at military composition its full effect, it would be necessary to add the official report of a cut-and-dried soldier. No matter how trifling the duty, the stilted language, bristling with technical pomposity, in which every military move is reported, makes me, a non-combatant, question if the white man is not about as absurd in his way as the darkey was in his.

Illustration: NEGROES FORM THEIR OWN PICKET-LINE.

Poor Fort Wallace! In another attack on the post, where several of our men were killed, there chanced to be some engineers stopping at the garrison, _en route_ to New Mexico, where a Government survey was to be undertaken. One of them, carrying a small camera, photographed a sergeant lying on the battle-ground after the enemy had retreated. The body was gashed and pierced by twenty-three arrows. Everything combined to keep that little garrison in a state of siege, and a gloomy pall hung over the beleaguered spot.

As the stage-stations were one after another attacked, burned, the men murdered and the stock driven off for a distance of three hundred miles, the difficulty of sending mail became almost insurmountable. Denver lay out there at the foot of the mountains, as isolated as if it had been a lone island in the Pacific Ocean. Whenever a coach went out with the mail, a second one was filled with soldiers and led the advance. The Seventh Cavalry endeavored to fortify some of the deserted stage-stations; but the only means of defense consisted in burrowing underground. After the holes were dug, barely large enough for four men standing, and a barrel of water and a week's provision, it was covered over with logs and turf, leaving an aperture for firing. Where the men had warning, they could "stand off" many Indians, and save the horses in another dug-out adjacent.

After a journey along the infested route, where one of our officers was detailed to post a corporal and four men at the stations when the stage company endeavored to reinstate themselves, he decided to go on into Denver for a few days. The detention then was threatening to be prolonged, and at the stage company's headquarters the greatest opposition was encountered before our officer could induce them to send out a coach. Fortunately, as it afterward proved, three soldiers who had orders to return to their troop, accompanied him. The stage company opposed every move, and warned him that he left at his own risk. But there was no other alternative, as he was due and needed at Fort Wallace. At one of the stage-stations nearest Denver a woman still endeavored to brave it out; but her nerve deserted her at last, and she implored our officer to take her as far as he went on her way into the States. Her husband, trying to protect the company's interests, elected to remain, but begged that his wife might be taken away from the deadly peril of their surroundings. Our officer frankly said there was very little chance that the stage would ever reach Fort Wallace. She replied that she had been frightened half to death all summer, and was sure to be murdered if she remained, and might as well die in the stage, as there was no chance for her at the station.

Every revolution of the wheels brought them into greater danger. The three soldiers on the top of the stage kept a lookout on every side, while the officer inside sat with rifle in hand, looking from the door on either side the trail. Even with all this vigilance, the attack, when it came, was a surprise. The Indians had hidden in a wash-out near the road. Their first shot fatally wounded one of the soldiers, who, dropping his gun, fell over the coach railing, and with dying energy, half swung himself into the door of the stage, gasping out a message to his mother. Our officer replied that he would listen to the parting words later, helped the man to get upon the seat, and, without a preliminary, pushed the woman down into the deep body of the coach, bidding her, as she valued the small hope of life, not to let herself be seen. As has been said before, those familiar with Indian warfare know well with what redoubled ferocity the savage fights, if he finds that a white woman is likely to fall into his hands. It is well known, also, that the squaws are ignored if the chiefs have a white woman in their power, and it brings a more fearful agony to her lot, for when the warriors are absent from the village, the squaws, wild with jealousy, heap cruelty and exhausting labor upon the helpless victim. All this the frontier woman knew, as we all did, and it needed no second command to keep her imperiled head on the floor of the coach.

The instant the dying soldier had dropped his gun, the driver--ah, what cool heads those stage-drivers had!--seized the weapon, thrusting his lines between his agile and muscular knees, inciting his mules, and every shot had a deadly aim. The soldiers fired one volley, and then leaped to the ground as the officer sprang from the stage door, and following beside the vehicle, continued to fire as they walked. The first two shots from the roof of the coach had killed two Indians hidden in the hole made by the wash-out. By that means our men got what they term the "morale" on them, and though they pursued, it was at a greater distance than it would have been had not two of their number fallen at the beginning of the attack.

Illustration: AN ATTACK ON A STAGE-COACH.

This running fire continued for five miles, when, fortunately for the little band, one of the stage stations, where a few men had been posted on our officer's trip out, was reached at last. Here a halt was made, as the Indians congregated on a bluff where they could watch safely. The coach was a wreck. The large lamps on either side of the driver's seat were shattered completely, and there were six bullet-holes between the roof and the wooden body of the coach. When the door of the stage was opened, and the crouching woman lifted her face from the floor and was helped out, she was so unmoved, so calm, the officer and soldiers were astonished at her nerve. She looked about, and said, "But I don't see any Indians yet." The officer told her that if she would take the trouble to look over on the bluff, she would find them on dress parade. Then she told him about her experience in the stage. The dying soldier had breathed his last soon after he fell into the coach, and all the five miles his dead body kept slipping from the seat on to the prostrate woman. In vain she pushed it one side; the violence with which the vehicle rocked from side to side, as the driver urged his animals to their utmost speed, made it impossible for her to protect herself from contact with the heavy corpse, that rolled about with the plunging of the coach. All this, repeated without agitation, with no word of fear for the remaining portion of the journey, which, happily, was safely finished, drew from our officer, almost dumb with amazement at the fortitude displayed, a speech that would rarely be set down by the novelist who imagines conversations, but which is just what is likely to be said in real life--"By Jove! you deserve a chromo!"

One troop of the Seventh Cavalry was left to garrison Fort Wallace, while the remainder of the regiment was scouting. The post was then about as dreary as any spot on earth. There were no trees; only the arid plain surrounded it, and the sirocco winds drove the sands of that desolate desert into the dug-outs that served for the habitation of officers and men. The supplies were of the worst description. It was impossible to get vegetables of any kind, and there was, therefore, no preventing the soldier's scourge, scurvy, which the heat aggravated, inflaming the already burning flesh. Even the medical supplies were limited. None of the posts at that time were provided with decent food--that is, none beyond the railroad. I remember how much troubled my husband was over this subject, when I joined him at Fort Hays. The bacon issued to the soldiers was not only rancid, but was supplied by dishonest contractors, who slipped in any foreign substance they could, to make the weight come up to the required amount; and thus the soldiers were cheated out of the quantity due them, as well as imposed upon in the quality of their rations. It was the privilege of the enlisted men to make their complaints to the commanding officer, and some of them sent to ask the General to come to the company street and allow them to prove to him what frauds were being practiced. I went with him, and saw a flat stone, the size of the slices of bacon as they were packed together, sandwiched between the layers. My husband was justly incensed, but could promise no immediate redress. The route of travel was so dangerous that it was necessary to detail a larger number of men to guard any train of supplies that attempted to reach those distant posts. The soldiers felt, and justly too, that it was an outrage that preparations for the arrival of so large a number of troops had not been perfected in the spring, before the whole country was in a state of siege. The supplies provided for the consumption of those troops operating in the field or stationed at the posts had been sent out during the war. It was then 1867, and they had lain in the poor, ill-protected adobe or dug-out storehouse all the intervening time--more than two years. At Forts Wallace and Hays there were no storehouses, and the flour and bacon were only protected by tarpaulins. Both became rancid and moldy, and were at the mercy of the rats and mice. A larger quantity of supplies was forwarded to that portion of the country the last year of the war than was needed for the volunteer troops sent out there, and consequently our Seventh Cavalry, scouting day and night all through that eventful summer, were compelled to subsist on the food already on hand. It was the most mistaken economy to persist in issuing such rations, when it is so well known that a well-filled stomach is a strong background for a courageous heart. The desertions were unceasing. The nearer the troops approached the mountains, the more the men took themselves off to the mines.

In April of that year no deaths had occurred at Fort Wallace, but by November there were sixty mounds outside the garrison, covering the brave hearts of soldiers who had either succumbed to illness or been shot by Indians. It was a fearful mortality for a garrison of fewer than two hundred souls. If the soldiers, hungry for fresh meat, went out to shoot buffalo, the half of them mounted guard to protect those who literally took their lives in their hands to provide a few meals of wholesome food for themselves and their comrades. At one company post on the South Platte, a troop of our Seventh Cavalry was stationed. In the mining excitement that ran so high in 1866 and 1867, the captain woke one morning to find that his first sergeant and forty out of sixty men that composed the garrison, had decamped, with horses and equipments, for the mines. This left the handful of men in imminent peril from Indian assaults. The wily foe lies hidden for days outside the garrison, protected by a heap of stones or a sage-bush, and informs himself, as no other spy on earth ever can, just how many souls the little group of tents or the quarters represent. In this dire strait a dauntless sergeant, Andrews, offered to go in search of the missing men. He had established his reputation as a marksman in the regiment, and soldiers used to say that "such shooting as Andrews did, got the bulge on everybody." He was seemingly fearless. The captain consented to his departure, but demurred to his going alone. The sergeant believed he could only succeed if he went into the mining-camp unaccompanied, and so the officer permitted him to go. He arrested and brought away nine, traveling two hundred miles with them to Fort Wallace. There was no guard-house at the post, and the commanding officer had to exercise his ingenuity to secure these deserters. A large hole was dug in the middle of the parade-ground and covered with logs and earth, leaving a square aperture in the centre. The ladder by which they descended was removed by the guard when all were in, and the Bastile could hardly be more secure than this ingenious prison.

Two separate attacks were made by three hundred Dog-soldiers (Cheyennes) to capture Fort Wallace that summer. During the first fight, the prisoners in their pit heard the firing, and knew that all the troops were outside the post engaged with the Indians. Knowing their helplessness, their torture of mind can be imagined. If the enemy succeeded in entering the garrison, their fate was sealed. The attacks were so sudden that there was no opportunity to release these men. The officers knew well enough, that, facing a common foe, they might count on unquestionable unity of action from the deserters. Some clemency was to be expected from a military court that would eventually try them, but all the world knows the savage cry is "No quarter!" In an attack on a post, there is only a wild stampede at the sound of the "General" from the trumpet. There is a rush for weapons, and every one dashes outside the garrison to the skirmish-line. In such a race, every soldier elects to be his own captain till the field is reached. I have seen the troops pour out of a garrison, at an unexpected attack, in an incredibly short time. No one stands upon the order of his going, or cares whose gun or whose horse he seizes on the way. Once the skirmish-line is formed, the soldierly qualities assert themselves, and complete order is resumed. It is only necessary to be in the midst of such excitement, to realize how readily prisoners out of sight would be forgotten.

After the fight was over, and the Indians were driven off, the poor fellows sent to ask if they could speak with the commanding officer, and when he came to their prison for the interview, they said, "For God's sake, do anything in future with us that you see fit--condemn us to any kind of punishment, put balls and chains on all of us--but whatever you do, in case of another attack, let us out of this hole and give us a gun!" I have known a generous-minded commanding officer to release every prisoner in the guard-house and set aside their sentences forever, after they have shown their courage and presence of mind in defending a post from Indians, or other perils, such as fire and storms.

The brave sergeant who had filled the pit with his captures, asked to follow a deserter who had escaped to a settlement on the Saline River. He found the man, arrested him, and brought him away unaided. When they reached the railway at Ellsworth, the man made a plea of hunger, and the sergeant took him to an eating-house. While standing at the counter, he took the cover from a red-pepper box and furtively watching his chance, threw the contents into the sergeant's eyes, completely blinding him. The sergeant was then accounted second only to Wild Bill as a shot, and not a whit less cool. Though groaning with agony, he lost none of his self-possession. Listening for the footfall as the deserter started for the door, he fired in the direction, and the man fell dead.

Our regiment was now passing through its worst days. Constant scouting over the sun-baked, cactus-bedded Plains, by men who were as yet unacclimated, and learning by the severest lessons to inure themselves to hardships, made terrible havoc in the ranks. The horses, also fresh to this sort of service, grew gaunt, and dragged their miserably fed bodies over the blistering trail. Here and there along the line a trooper walked beside his beast, wetting, when he could, the flesh that was raw from the chafing of the saddle, especially when the rider is a novice in horsemanship.

Insubordination among the men was the certain consequence of the half-starved, discouraged state they were in. One good fight would have put heart into them to some extent, for the hopelessness of following such a will-o'-the-wisp as the Indians were that year, made them think their scouting did no good and might as well be discontinued. Some of the officers were poor disciplinarians, either from inexperience or because they lacked the gift of control over others, which seems left out of certain temperaments. Alas! some had no control over themselves; and no one could expect obedience in such a case. In its early days the Seventh Cavalry was not the temperate regiment it afterward became. Some of the soldiers in the ranks had been officers during the war, and they were learning the lesson, that hard summer, of receiving orders instead of issuing them. There were a good many men who had served in the Confederate army, and had not a ray of patriotism in enlisting; it was merely a question of subsistence to them in their beggared condition.

There were troopers who had entered the service from a romantic love of adventure, with little idea of what stuff a man must be made if he is hourly in peril, or, what taxes the nerves still more, continually called upon to endure privation.

The mines were evidently the great object that induced the soldier to enlist that year. The Eastern papers had wild accounts of the enormous yield in the Rocky Mountains, and free transportation by Government could be gained by enlisting. At that time, when the railroad was incomplete, and travel almost given up on account of danger to the stages; when the telegraph, which now reaches the destination of the rogue with its warning far in advance of him, had not even been projected over the Plains--it was the easiest sort of escape for a man, for when once he reached the mines he was lost for years, and perhaps died undiscovered.

Recruits of the kind sent to us would, even under favorable circumstances, be difficult material from which to evolve soldierly men; and considering their terrible hardships, it was no wonder the regiment was nearly decimated. In enlisting, the recruit rarely realizes the trial that awaits him of surrendering his independence. We hear and know so much in this country of freedom that even a tramp appreciates it. If a man is reasonably subordinate, it is still very hard to become accustomed to the infinitesimal observances that I have so often been told are "absolutely necessary to good order and military discipline." To a looker-on like me, it seemed very much like reducing men to machines. The men made so much trouble on the campaign--and we knew of it by the many letters that came into garrison in one mail, as well as by personal observation, when in the regiment--that I did not find much sympathy in my heart for them. In one night, while I was at Fort Hays, forty men deserted, and in so bold and deliberate a manner, taking arms, ammunition, horses, and quantities of food, that the officers were roused to action, for it looked as if not enough men would be left to protect the fort. A conspiracy was formed among the men, by which a third of the whole command planned to desert at one time. Had not their plotting been discovered, there would not have been a safe hour for those who remained, as the Indians lay in wait constantly. My husband, in writing of that wholesale desertion in the early months of the regiment's history, makes some excuse for them, even under circumstances that would seem to have put all tribulation and patience out of mind.

After weary marches, the regiment found itself nearing Fort Wallace with a sense of relief, feeling that they might halt and recruit in that miserable but comparatively safe post. They were met by the news of the ravages of the cholera. No time could be worse for the soldiers to encounter it. The long, trying campaign, even extending into the Department of the Platte, had fatigued and disheartened the command. Exhaustion and semi-starvation made the men an easy prey. The climate, though so hot in summer, had heretofore been in their favor, as the air was pure, and, in ordinary weather, bracing. But with cholera, even the high altitude was no protection. No one could account for the appearance of the pestilence; never before or since had it been known in so elevated a part of our country. There were those who attributed the scourge to the upturning of the earth in the building of the Kansas Pacific Railroad; but the engineers had not even been able to prospect as far as Wallace on account of the Indians. An infantry regiment, on its march to New Mexico, halted at Fort Wallace, and even in their brief stay the men were stricken down, and with inefficient nurses, no comforts, not even wholesome food, it was a wonder that there was enough of the regiment left for an organization. The wife of one of the officers, staying temporarily in a dug-out, fell a victim, and died in the wretched underground habitation in which an Eastern farmer would refuse to shelter his stock.

It was a hard fate for our Seventh Cavalry men. Their camp, outside the garrison, had no protection from the remorseless sun, and the poor fellows rolled on the hot earth in their small tents, without a cup of cold water or a morsel of decent food. The surgeons fought day and night to stay the spread of the disease, but everything was against them. The exhausted soldiers, disheartened by long, hard, unsuccessful marching, had little desire to live when once seized by the awful disease.

With the celerity with which evil news travels, much of what I have written came back to us. Though the mails were so uncertain, and travel was almost discontinued, still the story of the illness and desperate condition of our regiment reached us, and many a garbled and exaggerated tale came with the true ones. Day after day I sat on the gallery of the quarters in which we were temporarily established, watching for the first sign of the cavalryman who brought our mail. Doubtless he thought himself a winged Mercury. In reality, no snail ever crept so slowly. When he began his walk toward me, measuring his regulation steps with military precision, a world of fretful impatience possessed me. I wished with all my soul I was, for the moment, any one but the wife of his commanding officer, that I might pick up my skirts and fly over the grass, and snatch the parcel from his hand. When he finally reached the gallery, and swung himself into position to salute, my heart thumped like the infantry drum. Day after day came the same pompous, maddening words: "I have the honor to report there are no letters for Mrs. Major-General George Armstrong Custer." Not caring at last whether the man saw the flush of disappointment, the choking breath, and the rising tears, I fled in the midst of his slow announcement, to plunge my wretched head into my pillow, hoping the sound of the sobs would not reach Eliza, who was generally hovering near to propose something that would comfort me in my disappointment.

She knew work was my panacea, and made an injured mouth over the rent in her apron, which, in her desires to keep me occupied, she was not above tearing on purpose. With complaining tones she said, "Miss Libbie, ain't you goin' to do no sewin' for me at all? 'Pears like every darkey in garrison has mo' clo'es than I has"--forgetting in her zeal the abbreviation of her words, about which her "ole miss" had warned her. Sewing, reading, painting, any occupation that had beguiled the hours, lost its power as those letterless days came and went. I was even afraid to show my face at the door when the mail-man was due, for I began to despair about hearing at all. After days of such gloom, my leaden heart one morning quickened its beats at an unusual sound--the clank of a sabre on our gallery and with it the quick, springing steps of feet unlike the quiet infantry around us. The door, behind which I paced uneasily, opened, and with a flood of sunshine that poured in, came a vision far brighter than even the brilliant Kansas sun. There before me, blithe and buoyant, stood my husband! In an instant, every moment of the preceding months was obliterated. What had I to ask more? What did earth hold for us greater than what we then had? The General, as usual when happy and excited, talked so rapidly that the words jumbled themselves into hopeless tangles, but my ears were keen enough to extract from the medley the fact that I was to return at once with him.

Eliza, half crying, scolding as she did when overjoyed, vibrated between kitchen and parlor, and finally fell to cooking, as a safety-valve for her overcharged spirits. The General ordered everything she had in the house, determined, for once in that summer of deprivations, to have, as the soldiers term it, one "good, square meal."

After a time, when my reason was again enthroned, I began to ask what good fortune had brought him to me. It seems that my husband, after reaching Fort Wallace, was overwhelmed with the discouragements that met him. His men dying about him, without his being able to afford them relief, was something impossible for him to face without a struggle for their assistance. A greater danger than all was yet to be encountered, if the right measures were not taken immediately. Even the wretched food was better than starvation, and so much of that had been destroyed, with the hope of the arrival of better, that there was not enough left to ration the men, and unless more came they would starve, as they were out then two hundred miles from the railroad. If a scout was sent, his progress was so slow, hiding all day and traveling only by night, it would take so long that there might be men dying from hunger as well as cholera, before he could return with aid. And, besides this scarcity of food, the medical supplies were insufficient. The General, prompt always in action, suddenly determined to relieve the beleaguered place by going himself for medicines and rations. He took a hundred men to guard the wagons that would bring relief to the suffering, and in fifty-five hours they were at Fort Hays, one hundred and fifty miles distant. It was a terrible journey. He afterward made a march of eighty miles in seventeen hours, without the horses showing themselves fagged; and during the war he had marched a portion of his Division of cavalry, accompanied by horse artillery, ninety miles in twenty-four hours.

My husband, finding I had been sent away from Fort Hays, and believing me to be at Fort Harker, a victim of cholera, determined to push on there at night, leaving the train for supplies to travel the distance next day. Colonel Custer and Colonel Cook accompanied him. They found the garrison in the deepest misery, the cholera raging at its worst, the gloom and hopelessness appalling. My husband left the two officers to load the wagons, and fortunately, as the railroad had reached Fort Harker, the medical and commissary supplies were abundant. It took but a few hours to reach Fort Riley.

He knew from former experience that I would require but a short time to get ready--indeed, my letters were full of assurances that I lived from hour to hour with the one hope that I might join him, and these letters had met him at Forts Hays and Harker. He knew well that nothing we might encounter could equal the desolation and suspense of the days that I was enduring at Fort Riley.

My little valise was filled long before it was necessary for us to take the return train that evening. With the joy, the relief, the gratitude, of knowing that God had spared my husband through an Indian campaign, and averted from him the cholera; and now that I was to be given reprieve from days of anxiety, and nights of hideous dreams of what might befall him, and that I would be taken back to camp--could more be crowded into one day? Was there room for a thought, save one of devout thankfulness, and such happiness as I find no words to describe?

There was in that summer of 1867 one long, perfect day. It was mine, and--blessed be our memory, which preserves to us the joys as well as the sadness of life!--it is still mine, for time and for eternity.